OPERA / Distant Mario brothers: Jose Carreras, Royal Albert Hall
Friday 18 March 1994
Yet 35 years after his death, it seems, Mario's moment has come. A compilation of his hits - The Ultimate Collection - is high in the pop charts; and Jose Carreras has been touring his Tribute to Mario Lanza, which last Tuesday reached the Royal Albert Hall to be broadcast live by Radio 2.
Carreras claims that seeing Lanza in The Great Caruso, the 1951 Hollywood film, made him want to be an opera singer, and his show is his way of repaying the debt. There's no reason to doubt his motives, yet it seems odd for one of the great tenors of our day to pay tribute to a singer who was, technically, inferior. Or perhaps that's the wrong way to put it: Carreras sings opera better than Lanza did but Lanza sang popular songs better than Carreras ever will.
As a result the Albert Hall show was a mismatch, although the audience gave Carreras a standing ovation and called him back for a number of encores. Carreras has made frequent forays into Broadway territory, but his voice always seems too big, his phrasing too stiff, his pronunciation too alien. This isn't a question of laughing at a funny foreign accent. In the wrong hands, songs like 'Because You're Mine' become ponderous. When the word 'melody' emerges as 'malady', or when, in 'Serenade', 'blossoms on the bough' becomes 'blossoms on the bar', the effect is not only mildly amusing, but seriously damaging.
It doesn't help that Carreras lacks the ebullient stage presence of a Pavarotti. He stands motionless, the arms and hands restricted to stereotypical gestures, and he says not a word to the audience until the middle of his encores.
There were signs that the material encouraged him to relax his vocal discipline: aspirates appeared and the last line of 'Because You're Mine' was disfigured by a final, triumphant yet vulgar breath, so it became 'because you're minor'. Carreras would never play such tricks in the opera house; to do so here suggested an element of condescension.
Not that everything disappointed. The discreet amplification gave the voice mighty presence, so that his exquisite crescendo and diminuendo became even more delightful. The further the songs moved from Broadway, the closer they got to Carreras's home pitch, Italian bel canto. I'm not sure what connection Mario Lanza has with the aria 'Una furtiva lagrima' from Donizetti's opera L'Elisir d'amore, but this was Carreras at his best, the line perfectly shaped, the volume control minutely focused.
Artistry such as Carreras's merits generous applause, but on this occasion, I found myself unable to share the wild enthusiasm.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child
- 2 Why this father didn’t hide his daughter’s heroin overdose in her obituary
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
- 5 The most powerful passports in the world
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
Oldest footage of London landmarks released
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove